Guest Column: How to teach children to wash their noses clean, naturally

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I developed the Nasopure Nasal Wash System with the patented bottle design so children, as well as adults, can wash their noses anywhere.

We all know the importance of washing your hands to prevent the spread of germs, that brushing your teeth prevents cavities, and that washing dirty wounds prevents infection. Why don’t we wash our noses, too? Probably because it does not sound very glamorous, and because it is not advertised or well known.

It is a simple habit we could get used to, just as we can learn to brush our teeth, or get into the habit of changing the filter of our furnace. We should also wash our noses to keep the body’s filter in proper working order.

As a pediatrician, I evaluate and treat nose woes every day, most often related to irritants that we inhale. By understanding the anatomy and function of our nose and sinuses, a parent can help make better decisions regarding their child’s nasal health.

The nose is the body’s filter. The nasal cavity is lined with mucus membrane, which is covered by microscopic hair-like filaments called cilia. These cilia help remove, or fi lter, the impurities we breathe, such as pollen, mold, dust, viruses, bacteria, smoke, pollution and chemicals.

The nasal lining also produces mucus when exposed to irritants, and the mucus traps these impurities so they can be removed by blowing them out or swallowing them into the stomach.

Exposure to irritants causes the cilia to malfunction. The increased mucus being produced then becomes difficult to remove, and the mucous membranes become swollen.

When the nasal linings swell, the middle ear canals, known as eustachian tubes, and the sinus openings, which drain into the nasal cavity, become blocked. When this drainage system becomes plugged, people end up with painful ears, sore throats, sinus pressure and coughing from all of the post-nasal drainage.

Bacteria love this dark, warm, moist environment, and, regardless of the initial cause of the problem, eventually infection will set in.

No matter the initial causative event, be it allergies, a virus, smoke exposure or other agent, the end result often leads to the perceived need for medications.

Medication use among preschool-age children has increased over the years. In fact, more than one-third of preschoolers are given an over-the-counter medication in any given month. There are more than 800 over-the-counter cold and sinus preparations, and yet there is doubt about whether any of these medications are truly benefi cial in shortening the course of an illness.

I believe we have become so accustomed to using medication in our society that we forget the use of any medication comes with the risk of adverse reactions. In addition, it is well known now that the overuse of antibiotics contributes to the development of bacterial resistance against the antibiotics we currently have.

The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that treatment of infections as a result of resistant bacteria costs more than $4 billion annually. In addition, allergy treatments cost $1.8 billion annually.

Each year, more than $850 million is spent on physician visits, and $639 million is lost on productivity, all because of sinus problems. This trend is truly amazing and, frankly, very scary to me both as a consumer and as a physician.

As a mother and a doctor, washing the nose makes sense to me. Thousands of patients have told me what I instinctively knew: washing helps.

With daily nasal washing, the number of allergy and infection episodes is reduced, and with washing at the first sign of nasal irritation, the duration and intensity of an illness can be reduced.

Regular use of nasal washing can reduce the number of antihistamines, antibiotics and steroid nasal sprays that are needed. A hypertonic solution, one that is saltier than our body’s fluids, is recommended for a nasal wash solution because the high salt concentration can draw out the congestion from mucous membranes. Such washes have been scientifically studied, and the evidence from those studies supports that washes are easy, effective, safe, without side effects and tolerable, even for kids.

Four-year-old Brianna would often need multiple medications to control her allergy symptoms, because of ongoing ear and sinus problems. I began teaching Brianna about washing the nose by encouraging her to fill the Nasopure bottle with warm water and squirt it while playing in her daily bath. This helped her get the feel of the pressure needed to spray water out the tip. Both mom and I would applaud her efforts.

Next, we suggested to her that if she tried to squirt just a bit of water in her nose during bath time, it would help her blow her nose clean. Again, we applauded all of her efforts and told her how she was helping herself by keeping her nose clean.

The next step was to play a game and ask if she could make the water come out of the other nostril. Over a two-year period, Brianna became an expert at washing her nose without any help from her mother. In fact, she is happy to demonstrate for me just how such a little girl can accomplish nasal washing.

I would point out that Brianna’s mother was instructed to begin adding small amounts of the salt mixture to the bottle of water at first, and advance the dosage as tolerated.

Generally, it takes about four to seven days to tolerate full concentration, which makes the solution hypertonic so it can work most effectively. Brianna’s office visits and medication use have decreased as she perfected her nasal washing technique.

Four-year-old Sophie had similar problems. In addition, however, her speech was affected because of recurrent ear problems that stemmed from her allergies. Of course, we looked at environmental controls, and her parents did as much as they reasonably could in this regard.

Sophie slowly learned to use a nasal rinse, much like Brianna. Sophie’s parents tell me she will sometimes wake up with a stuffy nose and ask for Dr. Hana’s wash. Then, she steps up to the sink, washes her nose on her own, blows, grunts like a grandpa, and walks away saying, “Now that feels good, I can breathe.” The secret to teaching children is a slow introduction, giving the child all of the control, praising them frequently for little steps, and asking them to demonstrate their technique for others.

If your nose works well for you, don’t wash it. If you have nose problems, I suggest you try the simple, safe and ancient technique of washing your nose. The first teaching in medical school states that we should “first do no harm.” Nasal washing does no harm, and may produce great benefit.

Dr. Hana R. Solomon, M.D., is a practicing physician, with years of experience in helping patients with nasal, sinus and ear problems caused by colds, allergies, infections and exposures to pollution.

Dr. Hana can be contacted by e-mail to or online at the Web address

From the Oct. 25-31, 2006, issue

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